Why reality TV is great for writers

Some people hate reality TV. They complain that it’s the downfall of civilization or even humanity itself. Personally, I just have to laugh.

Grammarly even thinks reality TV kills books. Calm down, drama queens!
Grammarly even suggests reality TV kills books. Calm down, drama queens!

For one thing, there are so many different kinds of reality TV shows that it’s impossible to say they’re all categorically bad – or even that you refuse to watch them. Reality shows aren’t just the voyeuristic kind like Big Brother or The Real World, where they throw a bunch of strangers in a house together and watch the drama unfold. Not all of them are about gossippy Real Housewives or celebrities with first-world problems. In fact, you probably watch a lot of reality shows without realizing they’re considered reality TV. Gordon Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares, for instance, is a reality show. So are most modern-day contest shows, like The Biggest Loser, Dancing With the Stars and Cutthroat Kitchen. And if you’re into adventure and excitement, you’ve probably watched some survivalist reality shows like Doomsday Preppers or Bear Grylls’ Man vs. Wild – or maybe even that old favorite, Survivor.

In short, reality TV is everywhere. And though some view it with disdain, I have to admit that I love reality shows.

Why? Because reality TV is great for writers!


Not only will you learn a lot about all different kinds of human behavior, but reality shows can also give you a crash course in just about anything you’d ever want to write about. Mike Rowe’s Dirty Jobs, for instance, is an amazing resource for writers in search of unique, unusual and often underpaid jobs that real people do. But just about every reality show I’ve watched has given me great glimpses into other people’s careers, which is priceless for developing realistic characters.

For students of human nature, the histrionics of more dramatic shows like Basketball Wives and Jersey Shore can help inspire over-the-top characters and great off-the-cuff responses to just about any situation. (Or even The Situation!)

If you’re looking to perfect your dialects, reality shows are a goldmine. You’ll find Louisiana drawls on Swamp People, exotic accents and cooking jargon from around the world on Top Chef, and both east and west coast slang on The Real Housewives franchise.

Even when they’re bad, they’re good. Think, for instance, of the Duck Dynasty brouhaha. Whether you love or hate the Robertsons, their redneck comments really got people talking.

And perhaps you caught PBS’s spoof posters, parodying the “sad” state of TV? Their fake reality shows included Married to a Mime (“She’s got plenty to say”), Bayou Eskimos (“Their life is heading south”), Knitting Wars (“It’s sew on”), Bad Bad Bagboys (“Cleanup in every aisle”) and The Dillionaire (“Life’s a pickle”)?


Frankly, I’d love to see some raging grannies duking it out in the yarn aisle, or a show about a pickle king. After all, that last one’s just ripe for puns – another tool in the writer’s arsenal.

The bag boys, however, may be pushing it. Then again, wouldn’t you be curious to know more about what really goes on in the produce aisle after your neighborhood grocer’s automatic doors slide shut for the night? My husband used to work for a local supermarket – and boy does he have some scary stories!

In the end, I believe reality TV is as good – or bad – as you want it to be. Personally, I’ve learned a lot from reality programming, and maybe that’s just because I’m a naturally curious person. But I also agree with reality TV producer extraordinaire Troy DeVolld, who says “Life doesn’t just tumble through a lens and spill out the other side of a cable as a series of engaging stories any more than a potato left to its own devices is likely to magically transform itself into potato salad.”

The stories you see on reality shows are still written by writers who have to focus your attention on something interesting and entertaining. If they fail, the show flops. If they succeed, it keeps on going as long as there are people willing to watch it.

So what do you think of reality shows now? And will you admit you’ve got a favorite – if only as a true student of the writing craft?

One Comment